Court’s Interim Redistricting Map Claims Aaron Peña

Longtime Rio Grande Valley legislator and recent Republican convert Aaron Peña won’t seek a seat in the next election.
Mon November 28, 2011 10:58 pm
A Capitol Blog

Today Attorney General Greg Abbott will ask the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the interim legislative and Congressional maps drawn up by a panel of San Antonio federal judges. But one well known Texas political blogger (and tweeter) doesn’t seem to think much of the state’s chances.

At midnight on Thanksgiving (i.e. early Friday morning) state representative Aaron Peña (R-Edinburg) announced on his blog and Twitter that he would not seek a seat in the 2012 election, in large part because the interim maps left him out of a winnable district.

At the beginning of the legislative redistricting process I advised colleagues and map drawers that my goal was to present a map that gave every incumbent in the Rio Grande Valley a legislative district that they could win. We did just that. Unfortunately, the map drawn and designated by the three judge federal redistricting panel undid that work. The district I have been placed in is a 75% Democratic seat. It is unwinnable by me or any Republican candidate and I will not move into another legislative district to run against a colleague.

That “75% Democratic seat” is actually the seat Peña currently holds—except he famously switched from the Democratic party to the Republican party after the last election, sealing the Republicans’ 101-49 “supermajority.” Now it is virtually impossible for him to keep representing his old district.

Regardless of what happens with the current maps, both our own Paul Burka and Joshua S. Trevino of conservative think-tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation see Peña as a harbinger.

“In time, we will see Aaron Pena as the first of many conservative Hispanic GOP officeholders in the RGV. Thanks for leading the way,” Trevino commented on Peña’s blog.

Burka made a similar prediction in his analysis for Burkablog, while adding, “I hate to see him driven out of the Legislature, but he paid the price for being a straight-arrow.”

Needless to say, that’s not how Peña’s detractors, including many commenters on Burkablog, saw it.

“The truth is that Democrats should have removed Aaron Pena from office with a better candidate long before he had the option to switch parties or perch atop his pension,” wrote blogger “ Mean Rachel ,” who has frequently sparred with Peña via Twitter. “Instead, Pena was left to grow rotten, and by the time the smell got unbearable, it was too late to do anything about it.”

As University of Texas-Pan American political scientist Samuel Freeman told Lynn Brezosky and Gary Scharrer of the San Antonio Express-News , “The sense of betrayal here is just so deep and so visceral.”

“Given a Democratic candidate of any level of competency, with any kind of popular appeal, Peña would lose,” Freeman also said. “And he understands that.”

Peña’s blog post also outlines a number of personal reasons for not continuing to say in office, including the fact that he had chosen not to hold another job while serving.

“I was once a wealthy man,” he wrote. “I have traded that material wealth for a spiritual and emotional growth that I cannot regret … My wife and children allowed me the luxury of working full-time, seven days a week at a job that pays $7200 a year.”

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